Sir Bernard Jenkin, chair of parliament’s Liaison Committee, has backed a call by senior medics for a “rapid review” of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic to help it prepare for a second wave of infections.
In a joint letter published in the British Medical Journal yesterday, the leaders of Britain’s medical royal colleges said a review is “crucial and needs to happen soon if the public is to have confidence that the virus can be contained”.
“While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk,” they wrote.
“Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.
“The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase.”
The warning came after the prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced the lifting of several lockdown measures intended to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Among other things, the two-metre social-distancing rule is being replaced in shops and on public transport with a "one metre plus" system, and pubs and bars will be allowed to open on 4 July.
Jenkin, who chaired the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee for a decade, said the group was right to call for a review.
"It is essential that the UK is prepared for a second wave of coronavirus later this year,” he said.
“We do not want another Chilcot-type inquiry at this stage, but medics are right to call for a swift cross-party 'lessons learned' exercise to be completed by October.
“This would not only contribute to the UK's readiness for a new Covid peak but would also strengthen public confidence in the government’s readiness.”
Jenkin said the government should commission the review, to be led by parliament, “as soon as possible”.
He suggested the Liaison Committee could act as a vehicle for the review. Alternatively, it could model it on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards set up after the banking crash, which Jenkin said would “still be able to draw on cross-party expertise from Lords and Commons”.
“It is vital that we work together and make the most of the opportunity to learn from recent experience, before a possible new wave of Covid,” he said.